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MIKE DOWNEY

Hello, I Love You, Won't You Tell Me Your Bank?

April 18, 1999|MIKE DOWNEY

I was reading about Maria Grasso, about how this 54-year-old Massachusetts woman just won a "Big Game" lottery prize worth $197 million. It was the biggest lottery jackpot ever won by one person--not only in the United States, but in the whole money-lovin' world.

Two things caught my eye.

First, the story said: "She decided to take the money in a lump sum of $104 million--$70.2 million after taxes--instead of in 26 annual installments."

In other words, by the time Grasso actually got her hands on the dough, $126.8 million had already slipped through her fingers.

That sum of hers really got lumped.

Second, the story said: "The divorced mother of two said she is not sure what she will do with the money, but she mentioned her family and disabled children as priorities."

In other words, uh . . . she's not married?

Maria Grasso Downey, Maria Grasso Downey. Got a nice ring to it.

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I have never bought a lottery ticket. That's because I have always been an unlucky gambler. If I bet on a horse, he's lucky to finish ahead of the horses in the race after his. If I go to Las Vegas, the only way I can leave a casino with a dollar is if a dealer tips me.

Clergymen call from churches I don't attend, just to sell tickets in their raffles. They know I won't win. I couldn't win at Bingo if you spotted me the Bing. My luck is 100% bad. I'm the kind of guy who would go on TV to be a contestant on "Jeopardy" and finish fourth.

Besides, a lottery's a lot of trouble.

Let's say you won, just like Maria Grasso did. Would it change your life?

Of course it would. Think of the things you could do with $197 million. You could practically afford an apartment in midtown Manhattan. You could finance most of a James Cameron film. You would have nearly as much money as kings, sultans, sheiks, Oprah.

You'd have so many headaches. Friends would come around, bugging you to lend them 10 or 20 million bucks. Then they'd lie about blowing the entire amount on some nonsense, like sending their kids to college. As if you could put a kid through college for 20 million.

And what about taxes?

Think of that poor Grasso woman, forking over $33.8 million to the IRS just because she bought a lottery ticket. That's a pretty big check to write. I have written only one that size in my life, and that was a few days ago, when I got the monthly bill for my gasoline credit card.

Grasso found out on April 6 that she held the winning ticket, which she bought at a grocery store in Boston near the Fenway Park baseball stadium. The odds on one person buying the $197-million ticket were estimated at 1 in 76 million, or approximately the same odds as Boston winning a World Series.

I can't imagine what I'd do if I ever won that much.

"I'm a very down-to-earth person," Grasso said of herself later, upon coming back down to earth.

To prove it, she went right up to her boss, after the lottery drawing, and quit her job faster than a Republican being investigated by Larry Flynt.

Grasso had worked in the Beacon Hill household of a Boston multimillionaire financier named Chris Gabrieli, looking after his four kids, ages 1 to 5. By keeping that job, she could have been the richest baby-sitter since Robin Williams dressed up as Mrs. Doubtfire.

But I guess if my income went up $197 million overnight, the way Grasso's did, I probably wouldn't do any more work as a baby-sitter either. Not even if the people let me make out with my date on the sofa and raid their refrigerator.

Seriously, Grasso says with her $70 million (and change) after taxes, she hopes to help her own children, aid family members in Chile and work with mentally challenged "special needs" children.

Good things do sometimes happen to good people.

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A young man back in Michigan once won that state's lottery, only to later call it the worst experience of his life.

I remember the guy saying in a magazine article that winning the lottery led to his ruin. First, since he took the money in increments, he collected only a limited amount each year. Then people began treating him differently, not paying back small loans or even friendly bets, because he "didn't need it."

The guy did this magazine interview from jail. He was locked up for possessing cocaine, which he could suddenly afford, which got him into a bad habit, into debt and into trouble.

That'll never be me.

If I do buy a lottery ticket, then win, no way I would ever blow my money the way that guy did. I'd do what many red-blooded Americans would do. I'd blow it in Vegas.

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Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles CA 90053. E-mail: mike.downey@latimes.com

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